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Monthly Archives: December 2015

US and Cuba OK Commercial Flights

President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro continue to work on improving US-Cuban relations, last week announcing flights between the two countries will resume. But most Americans are still officially prohibited from traveling to Cuba, according to the State Department, and there are no plans in place to actually resume commercial flights anytime soon. They have just been approved. Despite the prohibition on American tourist travel to Cuba, some Americans and countless other tourists from around the world have long visited the island nation even without direct flights. And tourism in Cuba today is booming, according to reports from National Public Radio. Sticking Points Remain In the past year, Cuba and the U.S. have agreed to cooperate on drug traffic control, environmental protections, and the re-establishment of direct mail. But full relations have yet to be restored and neither country has seen all its demands met by the other. Cuba wants the U.S. to lift its economic embargo and pay reparations, which the Castro regime says amount to $120 billion. The U.S. is seeking $18 billion for property seized in the communist takeover, and an improvement in human rights. "Most tourists still cannot legally visit Cuba, but a State Department spokesman says having a stronger aviation relationship will promote authorized travel and improve people-to-people contact," according to NPR's Carrie Kahn. Island Vacations? American planes are not going to be flying tourists to Cuba immediately, but the aviation agreement is a clear signal that relations between the nations continue to improve and that we could be vacationing in Cuba soon. The deal struck between Obama and Castro will allow up 20 flights a day to Havana from the US and up to 10 daily flights to Cuba's other airports. In total, this will allow for about 110 possible flights between the countries every day. Right now, there are no commercial flights actually planned between the countries, just approved. Currently, charter flights do travel directly between Cuba and the U.S. and are allowed to travel with unlimited frequency. Hopefully soon, the rest of will be allowed to do so, too. If you have questions foreign travel, obtaining a visa to go abroad, or even foreign adoption, speak to a lawyer. Counsel can help you sort out your options. Related Resources: Find a Lawyer (FindLaw Directory) Who Can Legally Travel to Cuba? (FindLaw) Can US Passport Holders Travel to Cuba Now? (FindLaw)
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Do Cities Have to Plow Snow on Bike Lanes?

Cities are responsible for keeping streets clean and safe, including clearing the snow. But bike lanes are usually in the part of the street where snow plows push all the snow. So if you are a cycling commuter, you may find getting around on your bike difficult in winter. The extent to which a city must clear its bike lanes of snow and can be held responsible for injuries that occur due to plowing negligence depends on local laws. As bike commuting becomes more common, and cities are encouraging alternative transport, municipalities will also have to make room for bikers on snowy streets and roadway planners will keep cycling commuters in mind. The future roadway may look different. The Buffered Bike Lane According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and other experts, buffered bike lanes are an increasingly popular roadway design that provide safe cycling conditions but present unique maintenance issues. The buffered bike lane is physically separated from the street by a physical buffer, as opposed to just the abstract one made of painted lines and designated by the law. The physical separation between the bicycle lane and auto lane solves the problem of plowing snow into the buffered lane, as it is physically distinct. But buffered bike lanes require special narrow plows to clear them and present unique risks to cyclists, as they accumulate debris more easily. Bikers have difficulty avoiding the debris in the narrower lanes because they are stuck in the buffered area. Injuries can and do occur on buffered lanes. Who can be sued? The Massachusetts transportation experts write, “Responsible parties may include one or more state agencies and municipalities, as determined by right-of-way ownership, abutting land ownership, or the number of jurisdictions spanned by the separated bike lane.” Alta Planning and Design’s Perspectives in Planning is a series on non-motorized transport and design. In 2014 it focused on winter bike lane maintenance across the US and made a number of suggestions for how cities can improve snow removal without endangering non-motorized drivers on two wheels. Alta, too, highlighted the buffered bike lane as the wave of the future of cycle commuting. Injuries This Winter If you are injured this winter from a bicycling accident on a buffered bike lane or any other roadway, speak to an attorney. Many personal injury attorneys do not charge for a consultation and will assess your case at no cost. Related Resources: Injured in a bike accident? Have an attorney review your claim for free. (Consumer Injury) Bicycle Buffer Zone Laws (FindLaw) Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Legal? (FindLaw)
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No Indictments in Sandra Bland Death, but Prosecutor Says It’s Not Over

A Texas grand jury this week issued no indictments associated with the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead by an apparent hanging in her jail cell this past summer. Bland's death made national headlines because the African American woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, allegedly got into an altercation with the officer over a lit cigarette, and was found hanging by a trash bag in her jail cell after only three days in custody in Texas. Local officials vehemently denied that Bland was mistreated, and the grand jury's failure to indict in the criminal case seems to support those claims. But Darrell Jordan, the special prosecutor, said that "the case is still open," and that grand jurors would reconvene next month to discuss other aspects of it, according to the New York Times. Bland Family Responds Bland's family suspect that Sandra was mistreated because she was black. Her parents filed a wrongful death suit in August against a Texas trooper, the Waller County Sherriff's office, and her jailers -- they blamed authorities for their daughter's death and do not believe she would commit suicide. Bland's family responded to the grand jury's decision through their lawyer, Cannon Lambert. "We are unfortunately disappointed by the fact that our suspicions regarding this sham of a process have come to fruition," said Mr. Lambert, who is based in Chicago. Mr. Lambert said he was unsure of what to make of Mr. Jordan's statement that the grand jury would return to work in January, saying, "We would like very much to know what in the heck they're doing, who they're targeting and if it has anything to do with Sandy and her circumstances." Background on Bland Sandra Bland, who was from the Chicago area, was in Waller County, Texas this past summer because she had accepted a job at her alma mater, the nearby Prairie View A&M University, a historically black institution. Bland's family does not believe she would commit suicide because she was an activist, recording videos about racial issues, including policing. The last video Ms. Bland was known to appear in, unfortunately, is that of the trooper who used a dash cam to record her traffic stop for a failure to signal lane change. In it, the trooper physically struggles with Bland after she refuses to put out her cigarette and is reluctant to exit her car, slamming her head and expressing pleasure about it, among other abuses of power. For those disappointed that the trooper, the county, and Bland's jailers appear to have gotten away with something this week -- possibly even murder -- special prosecutor Jordan said, "The case is not over. That's what I'm stressing right now. The case is not over." Criminal Defense Counsel If you face charges as a result of a traffic stop or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney about your charges and get help getting them resolved. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Traffic Arrest FAQ (FindLaw) Can the Police Set Up roadblocks for any Reason? (FindLaw)
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Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in January 2016

After a momentous 2015 that saw the Supreme Court save Obamacare (again), give same-sex couples the right to marry, and preserve the death penalty (for now), the Court's October term moves into 2016. While the January session doesn't appear as juicy as previous dockets, there are some cases that will no doubt have a lasting impact. Here are three cases to watch in January 2016 as the Supreme Court closes out the October 2015 term: 1. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (January 11) Even if teachers and other public employees don't want to join a union, they can benefit from the union's collective bargaining on their behalf. Therefore, the Court has previous held that public employees may be required to pay union fees, even if they have opted out of joining the union. These are called "agency shop" arrangements, whereby public employees are still represented by the union for purposes of collective bargaining, but those who opt out of union membership only an agency fee for a "fair share" of the union's costs and unions are prohibited from spending nonmembers' agency fees on "ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining." But a group of California teachers are saying that even public-sector collective bargaining is political speech and they shouldn't be compelled them to subsidize that speech. The Supreme Court will decide whether these "agency shop" arrangements and violate the First Amendment. 2. Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle (January 13) Is Puerto Rico part of the United States? Sort of -- it is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, but no star on the flag or senator in Congress. Puerto Rico has its own Supreme Court, but also a U.S. District Court. So how does double jeopardy work with these two court systems? Luis Sanchez Valle was indicted in a Puerto Rican court on gun charges, and then also indicted in a U.S. federal court based on the same facts. His lawyers argued that this was essentially charging someone twice for the same crime, violating the prohibitions on double jeopardy. The Supreme Court will decide whether Puerto Rico and the federal government are separate sovereigns for purposes of double jeopardy. 3. Heffernan v. City of Paterson (January 19) Can public employees get demoted if their boss thinks they support a certain candidate? In this case a city police officer (Heffernan) was demoted after another officer saw him holding a campaign sign for a mayoral candidate (Spagnola) who was running against his chief's chosen candidate (Torres). And here's where it gets even murkier: Heffernan is friends with Spagnola, but wasn't working with the campaign or even campaigning at the time -- he was picking up the sign for his bed-ridden mother. The Court will have to decide whether Heffernan has a valid First Amendment claim based on his boss's incorrect perception of his "speech." Keep an eye on FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog and Supreme Court blog as we update the oral arguments and the rulings in these and other major SCOTUS cases throughout 2016. Related Resources: The Big 4: Major Cases and Legal Issues of 2015 (FindLaw's Decided) The 5 Most Important Supreme Court Cases of 2015 (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Supreme Court Could Soon Ban the Death Penalty, Scalia Says (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in November (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Santa Claus Sideswiped My Car! Accidents With Delivery Vehicles

It’s not easy delivering toys to children worldwide in a single night. So maybe Santa’s sleigh rolled a stop sign trying to save some time, and caught your car right on the rear fender. Did he stay long enough to give his insurance information? And since Santa was driving a delivery vehicle for work, how does that affect your injury claim? Here’s what you need to know if Kris Kringle crumpled your bumper: Frozen First Steps An accident with Santa, or any other delivery vehicle, is much like any other car accident. And your first steps after an accident are always crucial: Stay on the Scene: You’re probably in a rush yourself, but leaving the scene of an accident can be a crime. Inquire About Injuries: Check on the reindeer and Santa himself — make sure everyone is OK and call for medical attention if needed. Exchange Information: Make sure you get Santa’s insurance info and other relevant details like license and sleigh plate number, and provide your own. Gather Data: Get as much information about the accident as possible, including eyewitness statements from elves or anyone else who saw the accident, and document the scene with photos and notes. Make Contact: Santa may tell you he can take care of the damage and that there’s no need to get insurance companies involved, but not reporting the accident could revoke your insurance and, if the accident is serious, you should also contact the police so they can file a report. Deep Delivery Pockets Being hit by a delivery vehicle can offer different legal remedies if you’re injured. Not only is Santa’s insurance on the hook, employers can be held liable for their employees’ negligent acts. So, if one of the elves was behind the reins or Rudolph was making a delivery run, Santa and Santa Industries could be at fault. Even if the sleigh wasn’t on a delivery run, if it was being used “in the course of employment,” the company or employer can be sued along with the driver. Stay safe on the roads out there this holiday season. And if Santa runs into your Chevy instead of sliding down your chimney, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced car accident attorney. Related Resources: Injured in a car accident? Get your claim reviewed by an attorney for free. (Consumer Injury) What Kinds of Damages May I Claim for Car Accident Injuries? (FindLaw) FedEx Truck Crashes Into Bus in Calif.; 10 Killed (FindLaw’s Injured) 5 Car Accident Myths (FindLaw’s Injured)
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Drug Dealer Busted by Online Package Tracking

'Tis the season for furiously clicking that "Track Package" button in sales confirmation emails. Whether you're worried about outgoing gifts making it to their destination on time or excited about an incoming present, tracking a package online can become a daily or even hourly obsession. And it can get you arrested, if you happen to be tracking a package full of drugs from China. Track Your Order Harold Bates was doing just that, and it led federal investigators right to his door. Ars Technica tracked down a judge's order from Bates's case, and it's a doozy: In October 2013, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) investigators opened a package in Hollywood, Florida that contained 500 grams of a "white crystal-like substance" that turned out to be the synthetic stimulant methylone. Investigators determined that a computer with an IP address registered to the Rockland, Massachusetts home of Harold Bates was tracking the parcel's whereabouts, and USPS notifications about the parcel's progress from Hong Kong, where it originated, had been sent to Bates's e-mail account. Moreover, they learned that Bates had tracked as many as five other USPS Express Mail packages sent from Hong Kong and China over the previous two months. Track Your Charges Bates was arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty to importing methylone, or "Molly," in 2015. In the meantime, law enforcement says Bates continued to try and import drugs and even smuggle them into the jail where he was confined. Federal prosecutors say Bates "proceeded to change his email and Skype passwords in order to prevent law enforcement from monitoring any future communications he might have with his Chinese suppliers," and just a few weeks after his initial arrest Bates used a false name to retrieve yet another package from China. When Bates was indicted on drug charges and turned himself in, he allegedly tried to "smuggle drugs into the correctional facility where he was to be detained." Don't import drugs from China, kids. And if you do, maybe be careful about how you track those imported drugs. Finally, if you find yourself in Mr. Bates's position, you should probably contact a criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Internet Crime (FindLaw Blotter) Can Cops Pose as Cable Repairmen and Search My Home? (FindLaw Blotter) Calif. Couple Busted Over Alleged Pot Sales on Silk Road 2.0 (FindLaw Blotter)
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Can I Sue for Snowball Injuries or Property Damage?

You’re dreaming of a white Christmas and everything that entails, like sledding, skating, and snowballs. But what if someone breaks a window, or worse, a skull, in a snowball fight? Rest assured, you can sue if you are injured due to someone’s negligence. Also, you can be sued for any damage you cause to a person or property with a snowball or otherwise. The elements of negligence are always the same, regardless of how injury occurs. So before the eggnog flows and you traipse out into the snow, let’s look at negligence in a nutshell. Negligence Explained To succeed in a negligence suit, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care, breached that duty, and caused a harm for which there are compensable damages. In the context of a snowball fight, you assume some risk of injury, so it may be challenging to prove a suit. Still, you can do it. A friend can be negligent. Say, your friend packs a rock in a snowball and hits you in the head, causing brain damage. You thought you’d be tossing soft puffs that disintegrate in a shower of flakes, not lobbing deadly projectiles. In that case, you can certainly make a negligence claim and expect to be awarded compensation for expenses associated with your injuries. Similarly, if you hit a person or property, you can be liable for injury. A plaintiff who can show duty, breach, causation, and harm will succeed in a negligence claim, whether or not they have agreed to join the fun. A Snowball’s Chance in Hell Snowball lawsuits have been filed before but make sure you can back a claim if you do sue. In 2010, a snowball fight after a Seattle Seahawks game became the subject of a suit. The plaintiff claimed emotional distress about the flakey fracas. But there was footage showing everyone having a good time. Speak to a Lawyer If you are injured in the snow this winter, see a doctor and speak to a lawyer. You may have a negligence claim. Let a lawyer assess your case; many attorneys do not charge for an initial consultation. Related Resources: Have an injury claim? Get your claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) Negligence Background (FindLaw) Defenses to Negligence Claims (FindLaw)
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Texas Law Puts Cameras in Special Needs Classrooms

A new Texas law will require cameras in classrooms with special education students and teachers after an investigation revealed questionable practices in some schools, according to a report from National Public Radio. Last year, a video of an 8-year-old autistic child held captive on the floor in a "calm room" resembling a closet -- over his protests -- was publicized. It prompted parents of special education students to demand cameras in classrooms across the state. The Texas law is the first of its kind in the country but it may be the beginning of a new trend in teaching, given the rise of cameras in policing. Child and Teacher Protection Some teachers resent the intrusion, although video could protect them from false accusations of mistreatment. But there are limits on filming in place in the law. Footage cannot be used in teacher evaluations, audio capability is required for context, and cameras are forbidden in bathrooms. The law's critics say Texas missed the opportunity to better train and compensate teachers, rather than spending on educator surveillance. There is concern that cameras will be a strain on school budgets. Not every school has to install them automatically or even at all. But districts must provide cameras upon request by a parent or school staff member. "Teachers are mixed, and the districts don't like the mandates," said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Austin-based Association of Texas Professional Educators. The law, which takes effect at the start of the next school year, applies to all of the state's public schools and charters, and to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day. A Major Expense The potential expense imposed by the new law is significant, as there are costs beyond camera equipment, such as added servers, microphones, archival capabilities, ceiling mounts, and labor fees. Plus, some rooms may need more than one camera. "We have to figure out how to store the video and audio, and that's a very expensive thing to do," said Robbie Stinnett, a director of special education for the Duncanville Independent School District. She says she has already received requests for cameras from three parents and expects more. "Schools are stretched," Stinnett said. "If [a bill] becomes law, it needs to be funded, because public education isn't funded well enough to add stuff on top of it." Consult With Counsel If you have a child with special needs, speak to a special education lawyer. Consult with counsel and get help even if you do not suspect mistreatment. A lawyer can help you secure the services your child needs at school. Related Resources: Find a Lawyer (FindLaw Directory) Disability Access to Education (FindLaw) Selecting a Special Education Lawyer (FindLaw)
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What Is the Crime of Providing ‘Material Support’ to Terrorists?

When a terrorist act occurs, authorities look to punish the perpetrators. But they also investigate known associations and try to tie the act to people involved in planning: those who provided material support. In the case of the recent San Bernardino, California shootings, for example, federal agents charged Enrique Marquez, 24, according to a statement from the Department of Justice, reported on CNN. Marquez bought the two rifles eventually used in the shooting, apparently in preparation for different terror attacks that never happened. But he is still facing life in prison for his involvement, however passive, in the San Bernardino tragedy that took place earlier this month. What Is Material Support? According to federal law, "whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both." When a death occurs as a result of the support, an unlimited term of incarceration, up to and including life in prison, is available. To qualify as having provided material support, the person must know the organization is a designated terrorist organization or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism as defined by statute. So, even if the person is not necessarily aware of their involvement in an act, the fact of having knowingly associated with a terror organization is sufficient for guilt. Material support for terror is a crime for institutions as well as people. Financial institutions are subject to serious fines -- $50,000 per violation or double the amount involved in the transaction -- for possessing or controlling funds from a terrorist organization. Cooperating With the Feds After the San Bernardino shootings, Enriqe Marquez, in Pennsylvania, reportedly called 911, and explained to operators that his once-close friend Syed Farook was behind the California attack, using guns Marquez gave him for storage. Marquez has cooperated with investigators and provided information, officials said. He also checked himself into a mental health facility. His cooperation will probably go a long way to helping Marquez resolve the charges he faces. He says that he ultimately never went through with attacks with Farook and stopped regular contact in 2012 after getting spooked when he heard people get charged for the very crime he is accused of now, providing material support to terrorism. Defense Attorney Necessary If you or anyone you know is charged with a crime, whether at the state or federal level, speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. Get help. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) What Are Terroristic Threats? (FindLaw Blotter) Making a Bomb Threat: What Can Happen? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Holiday Injuries and Decorating Disasters

That beautiful star for the top of the tree has ruined Christmas! Well, to be truthful it was more the rickety ladder you used to get to the top of the tree, the one that caused you to topple over and fall. If you find yourself in the hospital emergency room from a holiday decorating injury, you will not be alone. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with consumer products, and it has some pretty surprising data on holiday decorating injuries. Last Year’s Data According to the CPSC, during November and December 2014, there were 12 estimated fatalities and 145,000 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms all related to holiday decorating. That amounts to an average of 240 injuries per day during the season of cheer and giving. The consumer protection organization warns that falls, lacerations, back strains, and ingestion of foreign objects were the top reasons for injuries. Here is how the CPSC suggests you can avoid decorating disasters. Avoid Decorating Disasters Use caution on ladders. The CPSC says that 36 percent of holiday decorating injuries are the result of falls. Half of those are falls from ladders. Check live Christmas trees for freshness. Keep them away from heat sources. Make sure to keep trees well watered. Purchase fire resistant artificial trees. Not as fun, but safe. Place lighted candles away from trees. Also be extremely wary of candles around wreaths, curtains and furniture. Examine new and old Christmas light sets for damage. Discard sets with cracked or broken sockets, frayed or exposed wires, and loose connections. Buy lights that show markings of a safety testing laboratory. Fires sparked by holiday lights caused ten deaths last year. Keep small decorations away from children. Tiny decorations make huge choking hazards. Be extremely conscious when hanging ornaments on the tree or placing decorations around the house. Also avoid trimmings that look like food or candy. Be mindful of sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Lacerations were the top-reported decorating-related injuries last year. Consult With Counsel If you do end up injured this holiday season, first see a doctor, and then, speak to a lawyer. Sometimes injuries occur due to product defects or because a product is inherently dangerous. Consulting with counsel costs is often free for the first meeting and you may find you have a claim. Related Resources: Have an injury claim? Get your claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) First Steps in a Personal Injury Claim (FindLaw) Meeting With an Attorney (FindLaw)
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